If you eat local honey, somebody told me, you will not develop allergic reactions to local pollens.
This is either true or a harmless superstition. It’s one of several reasons to choose local New Mexico honey.
Honey sold internationally is one of the most adulterated foods in the world. While regulators and inspectors work at protecting imported honey, there’s a race between the regulators and global exporters who keep finding new ways to outwit the chemical tests.
Some foreign honey is cut with cheaper products like rice syrup. It can also contain contaminants, including antibiotics fed to the bees. According to the Netflix documentary “Rotten,” the largest food-related fraud case in US history concerned contaminated honey.
In protecting New Mexico producers and consumers, there are two issues: protecting honey and protecting the bees whose miraculous natural process produces it.
According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, New Mexico produced 311,818 pounds of honey in 2017. The state has 10 registered commercial apiaries and 233 registered commercial apiary locations. Surprisingly, only one is listed with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s “Taste the Tradition” promotional program.
We have no official count of backyard beekeepers. There are probably a few thousand. The Department of Agriculture notes that beekeeping as a hobby is growing. I note, when speaking to beekeepers, that they are passionate about their bees.
The best way to ensure you are buying pure honey, I concluded, is to buy a New Mexico labeled product. Raw honey from private beekeepers is not regulated, but honest labeling is required by the New Mexico Food Act.
With the farmers market season about to start up, most New Mexico consumers should be able to buy direct from producers.
Producers generally cannot guarantee that any honey is completely pesticide free, because bees forage. If the neighbor’s yard has pesticides, they could pick some up. The pesticides might also kill them.
The news is not good for the bees.
During the winter of 2019-20, New Mexico beekeepers reported a staggering 47% loss – almost half of all colonies.
In the recent legislative session, a bill (SB103, Mimi Stewart, D- Albuquerque) was introduced, banning some use of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short, which are especially harmful to bees. The bill made it through two Senate committees.
Neonics are sold more or less everywhere, with attractive commercial brand names but listing unpronounceable chemical names as ingredients. They are also used, usually without labeling, to treat some seeds and plants sold by retailers and purchased by home gardeners. If the plant was treated, the pesticide has been absorbed by the plant and circulates through it, so bees will be exposed. Some of these chemicals may remain active up to three years.
Supporters of the bill – a coalition of environmental groups – said it was intended to stop only residential use of neonicotinoids, not commercial use by farmers, and to require stores to label treated plants so consumers could make an informed choice.
But it’s hard to discern that from reading the bill. Even the Fiscal Impact Report, the legislative analysis, does not say the restriction is limited to residential use.
The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, saying it would hurt farmers, which supporters say was not the intention. Commercial spraying is regulated by restrictions on the labels of the products and training requirements for professional pesticide applicators.
Because of bees’ vital role in pollination, saving New Mexico bees is essential for saving New Mexico agriculture. While we wait for next year’s revision of this bill, every homeowner can help by avoiding neonics or anything called a “systemic” insecticide, and by only buying plants that are neonic free. Ask at the store before you buy.
Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2021